They Profit Off My Depression: A Poem

I used to think the problem with depression is that
there cannot be a poster child for it, no brand ambassador,
because depression is like YouTube channels
everyone subscribes to a different set

depression, is like humour,
everyone has a different palate
And everyone draws the line of tolerance differently.

but more so,
depression is like a soup
served to you burning hot
an appetizer for a hell-hole

and everyone has different utensils.
so even if the ingredients are the same
each is a secret recipe
handed over to you by your personal dementors

But you
you successfully commercialised my illness.
made a commodity out of the dark place
did some calculations about how
desperate the depressed soul is to travel towards light
you understood it before even my psychologist did
that I’d do anything to stop drowning
even seek support in the floating straws

So you made an industry reeking of pity
and labelled it self-care when labels are what ruined us,
sold in the form of aromatic candles, bubble baths, bullet journals,
badges that shout, “good vibes”
but sucked all of mine
and money
when I was already struggling with the therapist’s fee
and all along, my depression was your ally

So does that mean
that the more wretched that people are
and the more people that are wretched
are your profits?

So does that mean
that the more wrecked that people are
and the more people that are wrecked
are your profits?

but how can someone’s misery
be someone else’s happy news?

my depression tells me
that’s just life
So I wonder (and hope)
if death would be less selfish.


Featured Image: Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, suicidal ideation or similar symptoms, please reach out to iCall helpline at 022-25521111 (available 8 am – 10 pm, Monday to Saturday in India), The Samaritans. (116 123 Or email jo@samaritans.org.uk) in the UK.

What Disney’s Frozen Teaches Us About Emotional Wellbeing

Disney’s Frozen movies depict emotional struggles much realistically than any other representation of mental illness in cinema.

[CW: Spoilers for both Frozen 1 and Frozen 2; TW: mention of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation]
In the song “The Next Right Thing” in Frozen 2, Anna is feeling visibly desolate and bereft, as she hums,

I’ve seen dark before,

But not like this.

This is cold, this is empty, this is numb.

The life I knew is over.

The lights are out.

Hello, darkness.

I’m ready to succumb.

Just a few moments before this, Anna’s magic-bearing elder sister Elsa turned to ice as she met her (temporary) magical death and Olaf flurried away, disintegrating right in her arms. It is a moment of Fridge Horror, as the full extent of her loss dawns on her. She continues singing, “This grief has a gravity. It pulls me down.” This debilitating lack of resolve finds resonance for those who live with depression and/or suicidal ideation. Fatigue, hopelessness, loss of interest and apathy are often just the tip of the iceberg — depression is capable of clawing its way much deeper into one’s life, impairing our emotions, relationships, careers — often irreparably.

FROZEN IN TIME: The show must go on?

I think back to the first time I watched the movie and what I was expecting would happen next. Conventionally, stories would exploit this moment to project Anna as a phoenix rising from the ashes. They’d justify this portrayal with a seemingly innocuous argument like “the show must go on.” It would be seen as a moment for Anna’s character to do something heroic, to seek vengeance. But not Frozen. “The Next Right Thing” is revolutionary in that it lets Anna be human in her moment of loss. It doesn’t create a spectacle out of it. It does not glamourise her sadness or grief by painting her as brave or optimistic. Instead, it lets her break down under the weight of her crushing loss, shatter and emerge from it in broken pieces. And that is what makes it real.

It does not glamourise her sadness or grief by painting her as brave or optimistic.

So, when she heads out to face the world, she decides she will take it one step at a time, “I won’t look too far ahead. It’s too much for me to take.” On the other side of the screen, the viewers get a little more comfortable with the progress they’ve made in their own healing. It’s silent, but it’s there.
Let’s be downright honest about this. When it comes to the empathetic depiction of people living with a mental health issue or going through an emotional crisis, pop culture is culpable of doing more harm than good. The narratives in the movies and media, at large, are damaging, often depicting people with mental health problems on either extreme: demonized as perpetrators of violence or worshipped as tortured artists. The reality, however, is that plenty of people live with their illnesses in an ongoing way, leading what we consider “normal” lives.
Even in Frozen (both 1 and 2), there is an awakening — redemption in the midst of a crisis and disruption. What a flair for the dramatic! But the writers don’t sensationalise it just to create a titillating plot. At least, not at the cost of authenticity. In that respect, the Frozen universe presents itself as a microcosm of the world we live in. A little flawed, a little damaged, a little hopeful. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail:

Stigma, Shame, Struggle

Society is so obsessed with conformance to the status quo that anyone who is born different or dares to choose a different path instantly becomes a target of judgemental stares.
In the first movie, when the secret of Elsa’s power gets out, she runs to the North Mountain and builds herself a glass castle. She preempts her fate. She knows that she’d be shunned and ostracised. Later, the villain Prince Hans leaves her chained and bound, confirming this theory. In fact, let’s consider how their parents dealt with the ‘situation’. As kids, the sisters used to play together. One accident and the entire tone of their relationship changes. Why? The parents decide to keep Elsa house-bound and isolated with an echoing “Conceal it, don’t feel it.” Of course, the parents were being protective and doing what they thought was the best for her. It is a telling commentary of how we deify emotional repression at the cost of our authentic selves, just because we don’t want to be the deviant one, the eccentric one, the anomaly.
Usually, I’d argue that metaphors are a dangerous territory to tread when you are dealing with a sensitive topic. After all, they leave humongous room for (mis)interpretation. However, in the case of Elsa, her journey perfectly encapsulates how people with mental health struggles live. They believe their behavioural patterns make them unlikeable, they build up walls (or literal ice castles), push people away, indulge in self-blame, try to repress their true feelings. They build a cocoon for themselves where they believe they can protect their loved ones from harm, even if it’s artificial insulation. Going forward, her journey of “letting go” and “showing herself” is a massive act of self-care. Or as Audre Lorde worded it,

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.

Grief and its many frozen companions

Going back to the time they were growing up, the dysfunction is hard to overlook. None of us escapes childhood unscathed, and the movie does not gloss over the impact of their odd childhoods (Anna was locked out of the loop and Elsa, as mentioned before, was shunned to her room) that they carry into their adult lives — learning, unlearning and healing — now that they have a fresh awareness of the possibilities of life. In Frozen 2, we find out that Arendelle and Northuldra had a tumultuous past based on deceit, exploitation and oppression. The sisters, then, also have the legacy of intergenerational trauma to carry with them.

None of us escapes childhood unscathed, and the movie does not gloss over the impact of their odd childhoods on their adult lives.

And then we have Olaf. If you think Olaf is just here for comic relief, think again. In Frozen 2, he is almost existentially ruminating over the impermanence of life and things. And surely, the song “When I’m older” doesn’t just exist to pepper the musical with some humour. The resemblance of the song to a near-panic attack is very obvious. The plot doesn’t downplay Olaf’s overwhelming anxiety in the midst of uncertainties and catastrophic events.

The most important of all: Kindness

The movies also teach us a lesson in kindness, more specifically, self-compassion. By repressing our true emotions and identity, we do a great disservice to our brilliant, authentic selves. Humans are a heartbreaking mess of flesh and bones and it is upon us to let ourselves be this flawed, loving mess.

Frozen movie

Elsa is finally happy in the enchanted forests, where her magic can flourish and be understood; Anna takes the reins of the kingdom of Arendelle. The message is clear: happiness carries a different meaning for everyone. We are all chasing our own definition of it.
Normalising the mental health conversation is an intended byproduct of the movie, as pointed out by the creators. The sequel is proof that if a story is told well — and authentically, it can be an unassuming paragon of empathetic representation. This heartwarming animation talks about mental health without ever talking about it. And in the process, Frozen serves its purpose: we all feel seen, and a little less alone than before.

Featured Image Credits

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It is okay to have a bad day — and to cry when you do: In Conversation with Sasha Greene, Author of Something Like Happy

We sit down with Sasha Greene, author of Something Like Happy to discuss how we can write about mental health and mental illness in fiction

Content warning: This interview discusses writing mental health in fiction and contains some references to suicide, depression and suicidal thoughts.


Happiness is an ambiguous feeling. It is thoroughly subjective, for starters. Your definition of happiness is different from mine. In fact, the meaning of happiness keeps changing with time. And that makes the pursuit of happiness that much tricky. In the book Something Like Happy (SLH), ninety-two-year-old Archie tells Nick while waiting for an ambulance, “You’ll know when the call hits you, lad…But also don’t forget things can change. What you need at one point in your life might not be the same some other time. Look at me. Twenty years ago, I couldn’t have thought of leaving the mountains. Now I’m really happy to be close to our Maisie and the family. You just have to listen to your heart, lad.” The novel is peppered with unpretentious gems of wisdom like this one. 

A romance novel, SLH takes a light-hearted look at how people navigate and articulate their mental health, including their grief. For the most part, this navigation and articulation is a work-in-progress; the legacy of loss and the accompanying sadness largely looming. But human beings are resilient. They manage to make it through one day after another. They learn to let their loss change them. So, when Jade, who has experienced this loss, meets Nick, who is so close to giving up, who saves whom? Something Like Happy is the story that answers this. 

I (virtually) sat down with Sasha Greene, the author of Something Like Happy, to ruminate over the nuances of writing mental illness into fiction, drawing on lived experiences and letting our emotions have a life of their own. 

Sasha Greene, Author of Something Like Happy
Sasha Greene, Author of Something Like Happy

We start with the basics. Why write a book whose messaging revolves so strongly around mental health? More importantly, how does a writer decide to dive into this rather sensitive and precarious theme?

Sasha: Initially, I fell into it by accident. This was at the start of my writing career. I started thinking of a character — a soldier who had PTSD. This was at a time when soldiers were coming back from Afghanistan and other countries. I soon realised how complex this issue was. At this point, I kept researching more and more about mental health. Then, I made two trips to Nigeria for work. I took some anti-malarial medication for the same and had a bad reaction to it. After my first trip, I was depressed. After returning from the second trip, I was having suicidal thoughts.

[Research has suggested some anti-malarial drugs to be associated with adverse psychological reactions, including suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety.]

What really helped me was knowing what my next steps should be — starting with visiting my GP — since I had done all this research for years.

Even after you seek help and if things improve, some vestiges of your experiences can remain, life is always sort of this process of knocking down and building up.

Glasgow
Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Most people with lived experience that I know have wondered — at some point — about how the conversation around mental health can be normalised, made more comfortable. Was the book written with the conscious goal of eliminating or attacking the stigma associated with mental illness or emotional suffering?

Sasha: If society could just educate more people about mental health in the same way as we do physical health, it would make a world of difference. There are people who may not necessarily talk to their family about it. But reading fiction on the theme might just provide them with that segue. The message is simple: it is okay to talk about it. 

Similarly, I think there are people who might read a fiction book but not a non-fiction book about the topic. Telling stories always helps. 

Telling stories always helps.

The very first chapter of the book – where the key characters meet for the first time, is a rather sensitive opening. Was it a conscious choice to create a sense of light-hearted anguish to set the tone for the rest of the book?

Sasha: Writing a book is an iterative process. In one of the earlier iterations, Nick would have acted upon his thoughts and Jade talked him down to save him. But the final draft only shows him thinking about it. I think it comes back to the message. I wanted to show that if you catch someone at the right point, if you intervene and ask the right questions, you have a chance to help them before it gets worse. That way, Jade also manages to catch his interest, because to his mind, he has got nothing left to lose. 

I was very cautious and aware of the fact that I was dealing with a very heavy topic. Jade grieving for her sister, Nick dealing with his mental health issues. I wanted to keep it light-hearted to a certain extent, otherwise, the book would have just been too heavy. 

The story is indeed clear on that. Recovery isn’t linear. And SLH doesn’t make the mistake of pretending otherwise. 

It also doesn’t pretend that the constant pursuit of happiness is the ultimate goal. Which brings us to the title of the book. Why call it ‘Something Like Happy’?

Sasha: It is very interesting that society tells us to chase happiness. It seems a very elusive goal. I don’t think it is good to be happy all the time. I don’t think people have absorbed these ideas yet — that it is okay to have a bad day — and to cry when you do. There’s no need for constant outer positivity, this performative happiness. We don’t have to be happy; just ‘something like happy’ is enough.

Books on Mental Health Something Like Happy
Source

It is oddly reassuring to hear those words out loud, even though I’ve been staring at the title of the book for over a week. Time for a deep dive. How does an author determine how a character would cope? Grief, for example, is complex as it is. The accompanying trauma, shame, isolation, guilt, blame, rumination, anger, stigma only compound the grief for the suicide-bereaved families. Imagine getting all these complicated layers on paper. Etching characters with all these emotions. Who were they before they experienced loss? How will this experience change them? How will they carry on with their lives?

Sasha: When you write romance, each character goes on their own journey in that they are not the same person at the end of the book as they were in the beginning. For Nick, it was coming to terms with his mental health and talking to people about it more openly. For Jade, I think, it is more about coming to terms with the fact that she is not responsible for what happened to her sister. 

When I write romance, of course, I bring them together in the end, but I think a lot about what is going to keep them apart during the book.

For Jade to have gone through this experience was pertinent to this plot. First of all, she possibly wouldn’t have noticed the signs when she first met Nick if she hadn’t been through this before with Ruby. She would have probably just walked on.

Secondly, the déjà vu was also what made her reluctant to be involved with him. The hesitation is what kept them apart. Otherwise, she might have been more ready to help him with everything that he was going through. 

In the same vein, the book sets itself apart by looking at survival through a day-to-day lens. It is very refreshing to see a plot that deals with sensitive issues, while a) being infused with responsible humour and b) without medicalising the life being lived. There is another idea that the book really nails: how there’s not one thing/person that ‘rescues’ you, but a multiplicity of factors. 

Sasha: You know how we go through life, picking up different interests and habits from different people? A grandparent got you into gardening, a parent hated maths, someone was the party-planner in your friends’ group. Healing is the same way. You need different people to help you in different ways. You need the qualified professionals to help their way, family and friends as a support system, to accept you as who you are. And your own self. 

As for the humour, I would love to say that I purposely put humour at certain points, but I think it is more organic. I didn’t go through this scientifically to put humour at certain places for maximum effect. People have a sense of humour. When things are bad, this sense of humour helps you get by. It was also things I picked up along the way as a reader. I would suggest to anyone who wants to write – read a lot of whatever it is that you want to write. 

People have a sense of humour. When things are bad, this sense of humour helps you get by.

Photo by George Kourounis on Unsplash

It reminds me of something that Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss said about dark humour in his stand-up special Jigsaw: people make dark jokes in an attempt to “bring a level of humanity — laughter — back to a moment that seems to lack it. Tragedy.”

Sasha: I read a book called Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger as a part of my research. The book talks about how people who came back from war, into a very close-knit community, or ‘tribe’, felt less disoriented than people who didn’t have that kind of support. These people served in the army in some capacity and coming back into their tribe helped them hold on to the ‘importance’ of the work they did. For the latter, the mundaneness of everyday life made them more susceptible to PTSD episodes. And yet, it’s important not to generalise. Mental health as a theme is so interesting because each person’s journey is so different.

But having a support system, a ‘tribe’ can be so helpful. Even so, it doesn’t manifest so simply. People change. But when you have changed and your family or partner haven’t, or they don’t accept that change, you can sense the strain. In my experience, it is why sometimes relationships break down.

Overall, the book is pieced together from a lot of conversations I had with different people. I talk to strangers on trains and buses and it is fascinating. And there’s my personal experience, too. I was bullied at school when I was younger, and even though it has less and less bearing on my life the older I get, the aftertaste lingers. So I chat with people, have conversations, and let myself be fascinated by the sheer uniqueness of every story.

Photo by Kaitlyn Chow on Unsplash

Places, environment and the familiarity of these impact so much of our mental health. So I am tempted to ask if the Scottish setting of Glasgow and Fort William had an impact on the story, plot, characters, themes? Jerry Pinto, author of Em and the Big Hoom (a psychological fiction detailing his mother’s manic depression) talked about how living in Mumbai informs his art. He once said in an interview, ‘We live and love on a fissure…it is a source of unending inspiration, of magnificent material.’ 

Sasha: Glasgow harbours extremes within the city. I wanted the book to be set in the city and for it to seem like a slice of the city – hence the characters were working at local places, the dad was a taxi driver. With Glasgow, I think of the city as that friend who is extremely pretty, but they don’t know that they are.

With Glasgow, I think of the city as that friend who is extremely pretty, but they don’t know that they are.

My last question sounds like an inquiry, a cry for help and a protective missive all in one: As a writer, how do you hold on to yourself in the process? Do you let the characters get under your skin? How do YOU take care of your mental health?

I try to treat it as a job. I work 4 days a week at my day job. Monday is my writing day, so I treat it like any other work; so I sit down and I write. I try not to let it take over my life too much at other times but sometimes it’s hard!

I do understand that these stories can be too realistic for someone looking for escapism. For others, it is able to help them open the door for conversations, which is great. 

In the end, I am in this to write stories that I feel haven’t quite been told before. Stories that can talk about these themes in a way they haven’t been spoken of yet. 


You can get Something Like Happy at your nearest local bookstore or online: Amazon India, Amazon UK, Amazon US, Kindle, KoboHarper Collins website, Flipkart

Website: www.sashagreene.com, Twitter: @sashagreeneauth

Features Image Credit: Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, suicidal ideation or similar symptoms, please reach out to iCall helpline at 022-25521111 (available 8 am – 10 pm, Monday to Saturday in India), The Samaritans. (116 123 Or email jo@samaritans.org.uk) in the UK.

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Depression: Gratitude For The Better Days

I suffer from depression and anxiety. I donʼt say that to elicit pity or condolences. I also don’t intend to make it sound like a bumper sticker expression (although I’d like to live in a world where it is acceptable to). Itʼs just a fact, not a statement or judgment or disappointment. Mental health is a continuum and I often fluctuate on the harsher end of the spectrum. There have been days when I wake up with puffy eyes after having barely slept because of thoughts gone awry, and there have been days when I sleep through the best bit of the sunshine. My analogy of choice for the vicious cycle of a depressive episode is drowning; it feels like a dementor is drowning me. To begin with, I fight it. Then I realise it is too powerful, so I let it drown me into unfamiliar waters. This is usually followed by a dose of self-blame. I am robbed of self-pity, the only redeeming part of sadness.

Depression is crippling as it is, and coupled with anxiety, my senses teeter between reckless hyperactivity and withdrawal inertia. It is confusing, lonely, isolating by its very nature, so on days when I am able to witness a sunrise, or wake up without an attack of intrusive thoughts, I am overcome with an uncanny sense of gratitude.

Depression has been a hard taskmaster and teacher. But it has taught me an important lesson: to be grateful for the days when I am not at the receiving end of this inexplicable suffering. If I can trace the genesis of my sadness, I am grateful ‒ sad, but grateful that I can walk into the battleground armed with this knowledge. On good days, I am grateful to be alive and functioning. This gratitude has been my torch to kindness. Because our mental health is so invisible yet inevitable, we never know what another person is going through, and how else can we cure this but by being gentle with each other?

Photo by DC Irwin on Unsplash

Practicing conscious gratitude has made me sensitive to acts of kindness, like that time I couldnʼt bring myself to get out of bed, and a friend offered to cook for me. Or when a stranger noticed my bruised foot and saved a seat for me in the subway. When I recollect all the times I have been on the receiving end of kindness, I realise it is not a premeditated, grand gesture. Instead, I am convinced that kindness exists in the nitty-gritty of everyday life. Itʼs in the actions that make our life easier, in that moment. Life is hard. Kindness is as simple as being there for a friend when they are having a time coping with life.

The thing about kindness is that it is a very actionable practice: you can always be exercising kindness. It is tangible more often than it isnʼt. But that doesnʼt discount how hard it is. Because we cannot be kind in a surprising grand gesture, we need to be consistent and dependable.

You need to do it every day, that is the hard part.

If we were just a wee bit gentler to each other, refusing to judge others through a metaphorical monocle, so much heartbreak, so much suffering could be avoided!

I often look back at my formative school days. Each time, I wonder why we were never taught empathy. Was it because it was assumed empathy is inherently and instinctively ingrained in us? I realise that the only way kindness can be taught is by example and experience ‒ so perhaps our curriculum copped out and chose to teach us unambiguous morals like helping an elderly cross the road, or watering the plants. Kindness and empathy on the other hand are hard ‒ what about helping an elderly cross the road when you are running late for work and could lose out on your promotion? What about watering the plants in someone elseʼs garden even though they unknowingly killed some of yours?

It’s a grey area. and we might end up spending a lifetime answering these questions, but on days I wake up without that melancholic feeling, without that crushing feeling of self-doubt and inexplicable sadness, I am incredibly grateful.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, suicidal ideation or similar symptoms, please reach out to iCall helpline at 022-25521111 (available 8 am – 10 pm, Monday to Saturday in India), The Samaritans. (116 123 Or email jo@samaritans.org.uk) in the UK.